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The Marcos and Adina Katz
Korach 5774
Bedrock of Faith
Rabbi Hershel Reichman
f we look at how our Sages portray Korach, an
intriguing picture emerges. Korach was a wealthy,
respected Torah scholar who was chosen for the
coveted position of carrying the Aron, the holy Ark.
According to Rashi, he merited to receive ruach hakodesh
(Divine inspiration). How did such an esteemed person
steep to a level of fomenting machloket (strife) against
Moshe Rabbeinu? Korach and his followers were
eyewitnesses to the open miracles that occurred through
Moshe including the ten plagues, the Exodus from Egypt,
the spliting of the sea, and the giving of the Torah. How
could they rebel against these very truths? It is writen that
one who denies the truths of Moshe loses his share in the
World To Come. However, the Gemara writes that Korach
was only punished in this world. He still merited to receive
a portion in Gan Eden. How can we understand this?
Korach and his followers came to Moshe with a tallis
completely fashioned of techeilet-blue wool. Tey asked
Moshe if it required an additional techeilet string. Tey
also asked if a room flled with seforim (holy books)
necessitated a mezuzah. Moshe answered yes to both
questions. Korach really meant to say that the Jewish
people were completely techeilet - sanctifed and elevated.
Tey did not require Moshe to interpret the Torah for
them. Similarly, just as a mezuzah which reminds a person
of Hashems Torah, seems superfuous in a room flled
with Torah books, Korach wanted to indicate that the holy
Jewish nation who had heard Hashems voice at Mt. Sinai,
did not need Moshes leadership.
Te Shem MiShmuel explains Moshes uniqueness,
revealing why he alone was handpicked as a conduit to
bring the Torah to the Jewish nation. Human beings are
a blend of body and soul. Tere is a tremendous confict
between the physical and spiritual side of a person. Tere
is an instability inside each of us which is related to the
physical aspect of our being. Ancient Egypt was prone
to this volatility. Pharaoh and the Egyptian nation were a
very physical society. Tey were the complete antithesis of
Hashem and the Torah. It took 10 plagues for Pharaoh to
cease vacillating back and forth and allow the Jews to leave
In contrast, Hashem gifed Moshe from birth with
unusual powers of stability and steadfastness. Tis is
symbolized by his name, Ki min hamayim misheseiu-
He was pulled out from the physical side of the world.
Only Moshe, possessing no self doubt, perfectly at peace
in his beliefs, a paragon of stability, could bring the Torah
to Klal Yisrael. He had the power to be an anchor for
the Jewish nation. Moshe never died. A spark of his soul
enters every Jew who studies Torah. Tis fragment brings
with it solidity, commitment, knowledge of Hashem, and
connection to the essence of this world. A Jew cannot get
this without Moshe.
According to the Arizal, Korach embodied the soul of
Kayin. Korach, like Kayin, was blinded by pride. He held
himself higher than Moshe, claiming that he had acquired
his elevated level of steadfastness and stability through
hard work, in contrast to Moshe who had received it as an
innate gif. He demanded that Hashem reward him with
Moshes position. Korach erred by questioning Hashems
Te blue techeiliet strings correspond to din -
judgement. White symbolizes ahavah-love. Korach wanted
to tell Moshe that the Jewish people did not need him to be
their bearer of justice. Every Jew could achieve stability on
their own. In the same vein, the mezuzah is din-judgement.
Korach indicated that Moshes control was unnecessary
in a house flled with Torah. When Moshe did not accept
his reasoning, Korachs raging emotions led him to uter
heretical statements. However, fundamentally he was not a
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umbers 17:16-24 states the following:
Te L-RD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to
the Israelite people and take fom them- fom the
chiefains of their ancestral houses- one staf for each chiefain
of an ancestral house: twelve stafs in all. Inscribe each mans
name on his staf, there being one staf for each head of an
ancestral house; also inscribe Aarons name on the staf of Levi.
Deposit them in the Tent of Meeting before the Pact, where I
meet with you. Te staf of the man whom I choose shall sprout,
and I will rid Myself of the incessant muterings of the Israelites
against you.
Moses spoke thus to the Israelites. Teir chiefains gave
him a staf for each chiefain of an ancestral house, twelve
stafs in all; among these stafs was that of Aaron. Moses
deposited the stafs before the L-RD, in the Tent of the
Pact. Te next day Moses entered the Tent of the Pact, and
there the staf of Aaron of the house of Levi had sprouted,
it had brought forth sprouts, produced blossoms, and
borne almonds. Moses then brought out all the stafs from
before the L-RD to all the Israelites; each identifed and
recovered his staf.
What is the point of the phrase among these stafs was
that (the staf) of Aaron?
I heard Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, the Rabbi of the
Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, give the following
derashah based upon this phrase in 1975. Te point was,
he declared, that the staf of Aaron was not separate from
that of the rest of the stafs. If it was in a separate, secluded
place, it would have been easy for the leaders of the other
tribes to exclaim, Of course, davka the staf of Aaron
sprouted! It was in a special, unique place that was more
propitious for blooming. But we (and our stafs) are not in
a special, secluded place! It is not possible to bloom in the
place where our stafs are!
Te musar haskel from this interpretation is obvious.
As Jews, we possess an obligation to help our fellow Jews
spiritually, as well as physically. If one studies Torah in
ones own daled amot without reaching out to fellow Jews,
if one is not among the other stafs, one cannot impact
on the other Jews who are in a diferent place. Tey will be
lef beref of Torah, and use as an excuse the complaint that
their place was not one suited for Torah and mitzvoth.
Yeshiva Universitys ideology is precisely one of
among the other stafs. We engage the world, hoping
to demonstrate that one can atend university, become a
member of the technologically advanced and scientifcally
superior Wesetern civilization, and at the same time
become a talmid hakham who can understand an Avnei
Miluim and the Hiddushim of R. Akiva Eger and R. Chaim
Ha-levi Soloveitchik.
In Israel as well, the ideology of the hesder yeshivot is
that of among the other stafs. Young Yeshiva boys who
combine their years of Torah study with a stint in the army
demonstrate to the secular hiloni population of Israel that
it is indeed possible to be a shomer Torah u-mitzvoth,
indeed, a talmid hakham,and a participant in Israeli life.
I would add the following. Tere is a well known tale
about a dispute between the Vilna Gaon and the Maggid
of Dubno. According to this tale, the Maggid of Dubno
gave the Vilna Gaon musar for learning his Torah in his
own secluded kloyz, without having any infuence upon
others. Te Vilna Gaon, of his part, purportedly responded
that one des not have an obligation to produce magic
tricks in order to become a talmid hakham. Te more basic
imperative for a Jew is to become a talmid hakham. And
if the only way to accomplish this is to learn in seclusion,
without having any efect upon others, so be it.
But at the end of the day, the Yeshiva University
ideology (and that of the Yehivot hesder) is that of the
Maggid of Dubno. Our responsibility is not only to
ourselves. It is to the tzibbur, to kelal yisrael. We have an
ahrayot to every single Jew. Terefore, one must plant ones
staf among the other stafs. And we pray to God that our
eforts will bear fruit.
heretic, and therefore he did not lose his share in the World
to Come.
Moshe Emet Vtoroso Emet, Moshe is our true living
teacher. He experienced so many tumultuous events
throughout his life, yet still remained the model eved
neeman-trustworthy servant of Hashem. How can we
successfully navigate the myriad challenges and vicissitudes
of life? By connecting to Moshes infnite, steadfast, faith,
and drawing strength from the Torahs living waters.
Aaron in the Midst of the Congregation
Rabbi David Horwitz
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Understanding Korachs Questions
Rabbi Meir Goldwicht
ur parasha opens with Korachs machloket
against Moshe. Rashi writes, quoting Chazal,
that Korach challenged Moshe by asking why
a tallit made entirely of techeilet requires a ptil techeilet
and why a house full of sifrei kodesh requires a mezuzah.
Tere is no question that Korach was an intelligent
individual. Clearly what stands behind these questions
and what stands behind Korachs machloket is a worldview
drastically diferent from that of Moshe. What exactly is
the worldview that stands behind these questions?
Te Torah tells us that Datan and Aviram joined Korach
in his machloket. How did they come to join forces with
Korach? Rashi explains that their shevatim camped next
to each other Oy larasha, oy lishcheino. In other words,
the rasha here is Korach, and the neighbors are Datan
and Aviram. Yet in Tehillim 106, where David HaMelech
recaps Bnei Yisraels journey through the desert, we fnd
very interestingly that in describing Korachs machloket,
David HaMelech doesnt mention Korach at all! He
mentions only Datan and Aviram, saying, Tifach eretz
vativla Datan, vatechas al adat Aviram, Te earth opened
and swallowed up Datan, and covered the congregation
of Aviram (v. 17). Why does David HaMelech ignore the
rasha himself, Korach, and focus only on the neighbors?
Te mishnah in Avot (5:17) teaches: Every machloket
that is lsheim shamayim is destined to survive; every
machloket that is not lsheim shamayim is not destined to
survive. What is a machloket lsheim shamayim? Like the
machloket of Hillel and Shammai. What is a machloket not
lsheim shamayim? Like the machloket of Korach and his
congregation. Our third and fnal question is that asked
by many of the meforshim of that mishnah: How can you
tell if a machloket is lsheim shamayim or not? Afer all,
everyone who starts a machloket is certain that what hes
doing is lsheim shamayim!
Te answers to these questions enter us into the sugya
of machloket in general. Te frst time we fnd machloket
in the world is on the second day of Creation, on which
Hashem divided between the upper waters and the lower
waters. Terefore, Gehinnom was created on this day as well,
teaching us that Gehinnom does not exist only in shamayim,
but on Earth as well, brought here through machloket.
Te next time we fnd machloket is on the sixth day
of Creation. Chazal teach in Bereishit Rabbah that when
Hashem wanted to create Man, some of the angels were in
favor and some were opposed. Chessed and Tzedakah were
in favor; Emet and Shalom were opposed, because Man
would be full of sheker and ketatah, confict. HaKadosh
Baruch Hu answered Emet, explaining that even though
Man is full of sheker, in the end the truth would shine forth
from the sheker with unique intensity. To Shalom, however,
HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave no answer, because peace is in
the Heavens, not on Earth Oseh shalom bimromav. Te
nature of our world is to be full of dispute. How can we live
in peace in a world whose nature is ketatah? Te only way to
do this is to connect with that which is above us.
In all of Creation, the Torah says, Ki tov. Ramban
explains that ki tov means Hashem desired that it last
forever. How can something that Hashem wants to last
forever be referred to as just tov? It should be metzuyan,
nifa, outstanding, amazing! Tov is like a B-! Te answer
is that tov is not a grade, but much more. Tov indicates
chibur, a connection between two things. Tis is what
Shlomo HaMelech means when he says, Matza isha,
matza tov, One who has found a wife has found good
(Mishlei 18:22)? One who has found a wife has found
more than good he has found the greatest thing one
can fnd! Rather, tov indicates a natural and genuine
connection between two things. One who has found a
wife has found this connection. We fnd tov as a result of
chibur again by the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu. Amram
had divorced Yocheved, but remarried her at the behest of
Miriam. As a result of this connection, a baby was born
Moshe about whom it says, Vateire oto ki tov hu, And
she saw that he was good (Shemot 2:2).
Korachs mistake was thinking that yahadut is about
what a person thinks and feels is right, when the truth is
that yahadut is, frst and foremost, what a person must do.
When a person does what he must, aferwards he feels that
what he did was the right thing. Tis is essentially what
stands behind Korachs claim if the tallit is entirely of
techeilet, there is no need for an additional ptil techeilet,
because the techeilet represents the greater picture, what I
feel, whereas the lavan represents the details, what I must
do. Korach saw only the greater picture, the techeilet,
without seeing the details. Tis is the frst sign that a
machloket is not lsheim shamayim. One who sees the
greater picture, oblivious to the details, does only what
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Some Are More Equal Tan Others
Rabbi Josh Hofman
he story is told that the less learned element
among the Jews of Vilna, a city renowned for its
Torah scholars, decided to break away from the
existing local synagogue and start a new one, to serve their
own needs. Tey had litle or no say in the running of the
main synagogue, and rarely received any honors during
the services.By creating their own facility, they felt, they
would have a chance to be more involved, and enjoy a more
democratic distribution of honors.As it turned out, the
Torah reading on the frst Shabbos that the synagogue was
opened was parshas Korach. Te frst person called to the
Torah looked at the scroll before reciting the blessing,and,
to his horror, noticed something wrong. He exclaimed,
Wait! Teres a mistake in this sefer Torah! Here the
word Korach is spelled kof-reish-ches. but in my Passover
Haggadah, koraich (the sandwich of matzoh and biter
herbs eaten during the seder) is spelled kof-vov-reish-
chof. Te directors of the synagogue checked out his claim,
and saw that he was right.Tey therefore invalidated the
sefer Torah.However, afer Shabbos, there was a meeting
of the board, and they decided to revoke that persons
membership in the synagogue, arguing we dont want any
scholars here.Te story, while humorous, also contains
a kernel of folk wisdom, and, when looked at a bit closer,
can help us understand what actually occurred in parshas
Korach. Korach, as we know, led a rebellion against the
leadership of Moshe and Aharon, claiming that the entire
congregation is holy, and why should these two people
elevate themselves from among the nation.Ostensibly, he
was leading a democratic rebellion, ofering the disgruntled
masses a chance for a piece of the pie, a chance for equality.
In actuality, however, as the rabbis point out, he sought
Aharons leadership position for himself, feeling that it was
his, by right.In fact, the rabbis further point out that On ben
Peles, while originally included in the list of rebels recorded
in the Torah, is later missing from the list, because his wife
talked him out of participating. He lef the group, they say,
because his wife told him that he would gain nothing from
joining with Korachs forces.Korach and his coterie, she said,
would seize the leadership positions, and he would retain
he feels, not what he needs to do. Te trick is to be able
to integrate the details into the greater picture. Korach
lacked the ability to fnd the chibur between the two, and
therefore his machloket was not tov. A machloket that is
not tov, that HaKadosh Baruch Hu does not desire to last
forever, will not survive, as the mishnah in Avot says.
Te gemara in Yevamot says that even though Beit Hillel
and Beit Shammai argued, they still married between each
other, fulflling the passuk, Vhaemet vhashalom ehavu,
Love truth and peace (Zechariah 8:18). Tis passuk is
perplexing, however, because Emet and Shalom seem to
contradict each other there is only one truth, whereas
peace indicates compromise, even at the expense of truth.
Rather, Shalom shleimut is the greater picture, the
techeilet, while Emet is the details. Unlike Korach, Hillel
and Shammai were able to combine the greater picture and
the details without any contradiction or tension. Tey were
able to fnd the chibur, and therefore their machloket was
tov, and destined to survive.
Te next sign that a machloket is not lsheim shamayim
is involving outside parties, looking for support from ones
neighbors. Had Korach intended his machloket against
Moshe for the sake of Heaven, he would have discussed
his issues one-on-one with Moshe, not gone around trying
to spark a rebellion. Tis is the reason David HaMelech
emphasizes the neighbors in Tehillim, to demonstrate that
Korachs machloket was not lsheim shamayim.
Chazal in Midrash Rabbah say that all the blessings and
kindnesses HaKadosh Baruch Hu gives to Am Yisrael,
he seals with Shalom. Keriat Shema concludes with the
bracha of HaPoreis Shalom. Birkat kohanim concludes
with Shalom. Te midrash brings many more examples.
Sefer HaMiddot writes: Bakesh shalom vrodfeihu, Seek
out peace and chase afer it seek it with your friends,
chase afer it with others. Dont ever give up, rather chase
afer it until you fnd it. Te period in which we fnd
ourselves right now, between Kabbalat HaTorah and 17
Tammuz, is a period in our past during which we were
kish echad bleiv echad around Har Sinai, until the Cheit
HaEigel. If we make an efort to create peace with all who
surround us, near and far, we will merit the fulfllment of
the words of Yeshayahu HaNavi, speaking about Melech
HaMashiach, Mah navu al heharim raglei mevaser, mashmia
shalom, mevaser tov, How beautiful upon the mountains the
feet of the messenger, the announcer of peace and bearer of
good tidings (52:7).
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the same status that he had before. Realizing the cogency
of her argument, he lef Korachs ranks. As Rabbi Gedaliah
Schorr points ut in his work Ohr Gedaliah, while the Torah
itself writes that Korach took men with him to join in
his rebellion, Targum Onkeles, the traditional Arammaic
translation ot the Torah, renders the word as veispelaig-he
split of, or separated. Although he presented his actions
as an atempt to give the people their due recognition, he
was really concerned for his own honor.God intervened
on behalf of Moshe and Aharon, demonstrating that they
constituted the true leaders of the Jewish people.
We ofen hear complaints against the leadership of our
great Torah scholars, with claims that they dont care about
the people, that they dont have their real interests in mind.
Tose who seek to replace them, however, have a tendency
to shape their projected policies on the basis of their own
subjective concerns, with the result that, as happened to
our friends in Vilna, the plain meaning of the Torah can
be distorted. Te Sefas Emes points out that it was exactly
in regard to Moshes strongest character trait that Korach
led his atack. He asked why Moshe and Aharon elevated
themselves above the nation, thus accusing him of arrogance.
Te Torah, however, atests that Moshe was the most
humble of all men. In regard to Aharon, as well, we fnd that
God himself atested to his character.When God told Moshe
that he would be assuming a leadership position among the
Israelites, He told him that when he came to Egypt, Aharon,
his older brother, who until then had served as the spiritual
leader of the people, would greet him with joy. Te Sefas
Emes further says that because Moshe had an inner sense of
humility, he was able to exercise the powers entrusted to a
leader without losing that inner quality. Korach, on the other
hand, was inwardly motivated by a sense of arrogance and
rejection of Torah rule, and, therefore, ultimately failed in his
atempted coup.Te Jewish people needs to have spiritual
leaders, to provide guidance in its fulfllment of the Torah.
May we continue to be granted the wisdom to choose as our
leaders those who are truly suited for the position.
Servant Leadership
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
ou have gone too far! Te whole community are holy,
every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why
then do you set yourselves above Gods congregation?
(Num. 16: 3).
What exactly was wrong in what Korach and his motley
band of fellow agitators said? We know that Korach was a
demagogue, not a democrat. He wanted power for himself,
not for the people. We know also that the protestors were
disingenuous. Each had their own reasons to feel resentful
toward Moses or Aaron or fate. Set these considerations aside
for a moment and ask: was what they said, true or false?
Tey were surely right to say, All the community are
holy. Tat, afer all, is what God asked the people to be: a
kingdom of priests and a holy nation, meaning, a kingdom
all of whose members are (in some sense) priests, and a
nation all of whose citizens are holy.[1]
Tey were equally right to say, God is with them. Tat
was the point of the making of the Tabernacle: have them
make Me sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them
(Ex. 25: 8). Exodus ends with the words: So the cloud of
the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fre was in the
cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all
their travels (Ex. 40: 38). Te Divine presence was visibly
with the people wherever they went.
What was wrong was their last remark: Why then do
you set yourselves above Gods congregation? Tis was
not a small mistake. It was a fundamental one. Moses
represents the birth of a new kind of leadership. Tat is
what Korach and his followers did not understand. Many
of us do not understand it still.
Te most famous buildings in the ancient world were
the Mesopotamian ziggurats and Egyptian pyramids.
Tese were more than just buildings. Tey were statements
in stone of a hierarchical social order. Tey were wide at
the base and narrow at the top. At the top was the king or
pharaoh at the point, so it was believed, where heaven
and earth met. Beneath was a series of elites, and beneath
them the labouring masses.
Tis was believed to be not just one way of organising a
society but the only way. Te very universe was organised
on this principle, as was the rest of life. Te sun ruled the
heavens. Te lion ruled the animal kingdom. Te king
ruled the nation. Tat is how it was in nature. Tat is how it
must be. Some are born to rule, others to be ruled.[2]
Judaism is a protest against this kind of hierarchy. Every
human being, not just the king, is in the image and likeness
of God. Terefore no one is entitled to rule over any other
without their assent. Tere is still a need for leadership,
because without a conductor an orchestra would lapse
into discord. Without a captain a team might have brilliant
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players and yet not be a team. Without generals an army
would be a mob. Without government, a nation would
lapse into anarchy. In those days there was no king in
Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes
(Judges 17:6, 21:25).
In a social order in which everyone has equal dignity
in the eyes of heaven, a leader does not stand above the
people. He serves the people, and he serves God. Te
great symbol of biblical Israel, the menorah, is an inverted
pyramid or ziggurat, broad at the top, narrow at the base.
Te greatest leader is therefore the most humble. Moses
was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on
the face of the earth (Num. 12:3).
Te name to this is servant leadership,[3] and its origin
is in the Torah. Te highest accolade given to Moses is that
he was the servant of the Lord (Deut. 34:5). Moses is
given this title eighteen times in Tanakh as a whole. Only
one other leader merits the same description: Joshua, who
is described this way twice.
No less fascinating is the fact that only one person in the
Torah is commanded to be humble, namely the king:
When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for
himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken fom that of the
Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the
days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God
and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees
and not consider himself beter than his fellow Israelites
(Deut. 17: 18-20)
Tis is how Maimonides describes the proper conduct
of a king:
Just as the Torah has granted the him great honour and
obligated everyone to revere him, so too it has commanded him
to be lowly and empty at heart, as it says: My heart is a void
within me (Psalm 109:22). Nor should he treat Israel with
overbearing haughtiness, as it says, he should not consider
himself beter than his fellows (Deut. 17:20).
He should be gracious and merciful to the small and the
great, involving himself in their good and welfare. He should
protect the honor of even the humblest of people.
When he speaks to the people as a community, he should
speak gently, as in Listen my brothers and my people (King
Davids words in I Chronicles 28:2). Similarly, I Kings 12:7
states, If today you will be a servant to these people
He should always conduct himself with great humility. Tere
is none greater than Moses, our teacher. Yet, he said: What are
we? Your complaints are not against us (Exodus 16:8). He
should bear the nations difculties, burdens, complaints and
anger as a nurse carries an infant.[4]
Te same applies to all positions of leadership.
Maimonides lists among those who have no share in the
world to come, someone who imposes a rule of fear on
the community, not for the sake of Heaven. Such a person
rules over a community by force, so that people are greatly
afraid and terrifed of him, doing so for his own glory and
personal interests. Maimonides adds to this last phrase:
like heathen kings.[5] Te polemical intent is clear. It
is not that no one behaves this way. It is that this is not a
Jewish way to behave.
When Rabban Gamliel acted in what his colleagues saw
as a high-handed manner, he was deposed as Nasi, head
of the community, until he acknowledged his fault and
apologised.[6] Rabban Gamliel learned the lesson. He
later said to two people who declined his ofer to accept
positions of leadership: Do you think I am giving you a
position of honour [serarah]? I am giving you the chance
to serve [avdut].[7] As Martin Luther King once said
Everybody can be greatbecause anybody can serve.
C. S. Lewis rightly defned humility not as thinking less
of yourself but as thinking of yourself less. Te great leaders
respect others. Tey honour them, lif them, inspire them
to reach heights they might never have done otherwise.
Tey are motivated by ideals, not by personal ambition.
Tey do not succumb to the arrogance of power.
Sometimes the worst mistakes we make are when we
project our feelings onto others. Korach was an ambitious
man, so he saw Moses and Aaron as two people driven by
ambition, seting themselves above Gods congregation.
He did not understand that in Judaism to lead is to serve.
Tose who serve do not lif themselves high. Tey lif other
people high.
[1] Some suggest that the mistake they made was to say, all
the congregation are holy [kulam kedoshim], instead of all
the congregation is holy [kula kedoshah]. Te holiness of the
congregation is collective rather than individual. Others say that
they should have said, is called on to be holy rather than is holy.
Holiness is a vocation, not a state.
[2] Aristotle, Politics, Book 1, 1254a21-24.
[3] Te well-known text on this theme is Robert K Greenleaf,
Servant leadership : a journey into the nature of legitimate power and
greatness, New York, Paulist Press, 1977. Greenleaf does not, however,
locate this idea in Torah. Hence it is important to see that it was born
here, with Moses.
[4] Hilkhot Melakhim 2: 6.
[5] Hilkhot Teshuvah 3: 13.
[6] Berakhot 27b.
[7] Horayot 10a-b.
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Why Aharon?
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
t the beginning of the parshah, Rashi quotes
Chazal who explain that the target of Korachs
rebellion was the Kehunah (Priesthood).
Similarly, many occurrences and mitzvos later in the
parshah indicate that Korachs assault was directed
against Aharon and his position.
One may question how Korachs argument applied
to the Priesthood, as Korach seemingly was upset about
the general leadership; in fact, his contention (16:3) was
against the perceived monopoly on leadership as exercised
by Moshe and Aharon, and Moshe in particular was
responsible for appointments to all positions of prestige.
(To be precise, it was Moshes appointment of Elitzafan
ben Uziel as Prince of Bnei Kehas which stirred Korachs
rage [Rashi from Tanchuma on 16:1]. Tis incident was
unrelated to Aharon and the Kehunah.) Why, then, was the
Kehunah specially and primarily targeted by Korach?
I think that the answer to this question is found in the
hafarah. It is related how Shmuel the Prophet warned
the nation about its desire for a king. Shmuel feared that
- unlike a prophet, who merely coveys Hashems direct
commands to Man - a king would serve to remove the
people from God.
Tis is exactly the reason why Aharon was the real foe
of Korach. Aharon exemplifed submissiveness to Hashem.
His very leadership title was, rather, one of divine
service. Korach, on the other hand, sought to usurp Torah
and democratize its interpretation, stripping it of holiness
and making it into a loose, non-binding text (16:3); he
felt that true Jewish leadership meant asserting control on
Torah law, thereby disconnecting it from Gods defning
role. Korach felt that Jewish leaders, somewhat like secular
ones, should enact and interpret law as they see ft, in
accordance with popular interests, and that avodah was
subject to common interpretation rather than Mesorah.
Tus, Aharon, whose leadership position embodied pure
self-efacement and submissiveness to God, was the true
antithesis of Korachs vision for government, and Korach
viewed Aharon and the Kehunah in its current state as the
greatest enemy of democratic religion.
Although Moshe was also completely subservient to
Hashem, his actions were of a legislative nature; Korach
objected to the manner in which Moshe exercised his
legistlative powers, as Moshe utilized Mesorah, rather than
pragmatic and popular needs and desires, as his approach
to Torah. Aharons actions, on the other hand, were pure
ritual service as dictated by God; there was no legislative
process. Tis submissiveness to Hashems dictates and lack
of self assertion by one was entrusted with a major leadship
position was anathema to Korach and totally antithetical
to his vision of Jewish leadership. Tus did Aharon and his
position become a prime target for Korach.
And Behold the Staf of Aaron had Blossomed
Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald
he rebellion of Korach, about which we read in
this coming weeks parasha, parashat Korach, ends
in great tragedy for Korach and his cohorts when
the earth swallows them up. Te 250 men who improperly
ofered incense also meet an untimely end when they are
consumed by a heavenly fre.
Despite this intimidating display of Divine wrath, the
very next day, the Children of Israel complain against
Moses and Aaron, saying, Numbers 17:6: Ahtem
hahmeetem et ahm Hashem, You have killed the people
of G-d! A plague breaks out, killing 14,700 Israelites before
Aaron runs into the midst of the plague with an incense
flled fre-pan, forestalling further calamity.
At this point, G-d tells Moses that all tribal princes
are to take their stafs, inscribe their names on the staf,
inscribe the name of Aaron on the staf of Levi, and place
the stafs inside the Tent of Meeting before the holy Ark.
G-d tells Moses, Numbers 17:20:Vhahyah haheesh
ahsher evchar bo-mahtayhoo yif rach, And it shall be
that the man whom I shall choose, his staf shall blossom.
Tis, says G-d, will stop the complaints of the Children of
Israel against you and Aaron.
Moses places the twelve stafs in the Tabernacle. Te
very next day, when the stafs are removed, they discover
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that the staf of Aaron of the house of Levi has blossomed,
sprouting a bud with ripened almonds.
Te Torah informs us that the staf of Aaron was
returned to the Tabernacle for safekeeping, to serve as a
sign to prevent future rebellion.
Yehudah Nachshoni (popular Israeli parasha
commentator), in his refections on the weekly Torah
portions, notes that the commentators are troubled by the
new sign that G-d employs to prove Aarons leadership.
What is the point of the staf that blossoms? Afer all, there
have already been three very defnitive proofs confrming
the leadership of Moses and Aaron: 1) Korach and his
cohorts were swallowed by the earth, 2) those who
brought incense were consumed by a heavenly fre, 3)
14,700 men died in the plague. Who else was there lef to
convince by the blossoming of the staf? What will this
sign prove that the previous signs have not? Afer all this,
how can G-d say, Numbers 17:20: Tat [with the sign
of the stafs] I will cause to subside from upon me the
complaints of the children of Israel which they complained
against you?
Te Ohr HaChaim (commentary on the Pentateuch
by the famed Kabbalist and Talmudic scholar R Chaim
Ibn Atar, 1696-1743) suggests that even afer the death
of Korach, the people doubted Aarons right to the
priesthood. Although the people agreed that Korach
deserved to die because he rebelled against Moses, his
death did not in any way confrm that Aaron was entitled
to be the High Priest.
Te Ramban, Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben
Nachman, 1194-1270, Spanish Torah commentator),
maintains that the issue was not the priesthood. In fact, the
people had been convinced that Aaron was indeed entitled
to be High Priest. Tey were, however, unconvinced that
the Levites should serve as ministers in the Temple in
place of the frst-born. Te blossoming staf of Aaron,
representing the tribe of Levi, confrmed, once-and-for-all,
that the Levites were to be the ministers, in place of the
Rabbi Ben-Zion Firer (of Nir Galim, Israel, renowned
for his erudite homilies) suggests two lessons that are
taught by the blossoming staf. Rabbi Firer maintains that
open miracles such as a staf blossoming, in general, do not
efectively address an issue such as jealousy. Tose who
are caught up in jealousy, like Korach and his followers,
are so emotionally invested that no miracle and no logic
can sway them from their position. Te miracle of the staf
could, however, address the issues of those who honestly
complained about the role of Aaron. Since those who
questioned Aarons leadership did so sincerely, therefore,
when the staf blossomed, their questions were addressed
and they accepted Aarons leadership.
Rabbi Firer further points out that the staf, in this
instance, does not represent a scepter of authority over
others, but serves rather as an example of service to others.
Te other miracles that the People of Israel witnessed were
signs of power and punishment. In general, weak people
are not convinced of the righteousness of the powerful
because of the strength of the powerful. Indeed, it is ofen a
cause for greater resentment and desire for vengeance. Te
staf of Aaron, on the other hand, represents pleasantness
and conciliation, which efectively persuades those who
disagree with Aarons communal appointments to fnally
accept it.
It is important to note that, previously, in the time of
Pharaoh (Exodus 7:12), the staf of Aaron had swallowed
the stafs of his challengers. In this instance, however,
Aaron does not wish to rule over the others. Tat is why
the staf simply blossoms amidst the others and gently
convinces the others of its exceptionalness. It is a staf of
peace, tranquility, and brotherhood. In this gentle way,
the people are convinced of Aarons suitability far more
efectively than by power and punishment.
Rabbi Isaac Judah Trunk (d. 1939, Chief Rabbi of
Kutno, Poland, author of Mikreh Mfurash, a lively
commentary on the Torah) points out that there are some
candidates for leadership who, on the surface, seem to be
appropriate and well qualifed. But, as soon as they assume
the reins of leadership, they rapidly lose their talents and
their pleasantness. Tere are others, who, once they enter
into the ofce of leadership, seem to blossom, and their
talents, goodness and kindness grow. Tis is the symbolism
that the blossoming staf is intended to convey. In order
to lead the Al-mightys fock, Aaron and the future leaders
of Israel must always grow in stature, talent and kindness,
striving to become more perfect and efective leaders.